Responding to the rise of US extremism

Thought provoking questions in the wake of Charlottesville

This is my first week back to work after the birth of our third child. How amazing it is to witness the innocence and freshness of a newborn babe, free from prejudices, biases, and hatred. Just love, pure love.

Perhaps the childlike space in which I’ve been immersed the past couple months has made it that much more difficult to look at what went on in Charlottesville a few weeks ago. Part of me yearns to turn away from that level of outright hatred, violence, and ignorance. I struggle for words and am actually stunned by the lack of creativity on the part of these neo-Nazis. Really? You’re still talking about “Jews and Commies”? That’s your ‘Other’? That’s so 50 years ago. It just goes to show how unoriginal evil is, how recycled are the fears and threats that people make up in their heads.

In this frame of mind, I received this email last night from a member of the Euphrates community and it has me questioning along similar lines. How and when should we listen to the ‘Other’? Does listening mean agreement? Does it fan the flames of hatred and bigotry to give these views audience, to allow them to be voiced out loud? Or does it expose and uncover this evil that would otherwise remain latent and subconscious, but still in operation? I offer up her comments and questions to invite consideration and thought. I know they resonate with me, and I want to explore them deeper in community with others.

She writes as a Seattle Chapter member and former participant on a Euphrates trip to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan focused on deeply listening to the narratives on either side of the conflict in order to better understand the underlying causes.

How is your heart doing, amidst this country’s anger and discourse? It seems like all I see lately is spewing, foaming, and gnashing of teeth over who is a Nazi sympathizer or white supremacist amongst my friends and their friends.

I can’t help but remember when we all listened to a few of the settlers in Israel and at the kibbutz on the Lebanese border. One of our group members said “I have never been forced to listen to a racist before.” And I thought about it and I am starting to think this is part of the problem. The more we silence these racist ideologies, the more they seem to rear their ugly head.

I am having a hard time figuring out where to talk about this in a healthy fashion and also be a peace builder and also be sane. It’s so easy to discuss anger at hatred, bigotry, etc. But what about healing it?

At the same time, I remember what the son of the Jordanian prime minister said about the “shame culture” in a Muslim, patriarchal society. And I can’t help but start to draw parallels to the shame culture we are enforcing by shaming Nazis (who obviously I do NOOOOOOOOOT not not not agree with!).

In Seattle last Sunday I saw some photos of our counter protest to a “Patriot Prayer” group. I never look at photos of violence but all I remember is seeing one man sitting with his “Make America Great Again” hat, and dozens of people pouring silly string on him and laughing.

I feel like these antagonistically tribal, mob-mentality behaviors are going to be breeding grounds for more violence.

I just wonder, the more we wound the proud and bigoted minds, (which should be aware there are consequences to these actions!!!) the more they will retreat into their fox holes…how much deeper will it cause them to retreat, stew, and lash out in a similarly aggressive manner as the man in the car last Saturday in Charlottesville? With the public shaming that’s going on we are only going to see increases of violence and bloodshed. Just like what happens when [Israelis] keep oppressing Palestinians for one violent act, and then another…

Since I don’t believe warfare is ever the way to go, I can’t have that. But I feel like a lot of people are ready to go to war for this. I just get so uncomfortable and I was just crying so much last night by the burden of all of this. I hated seeing the video of the alt right marches. It makes me cry.

How do you find the capacity to be a peacebuilder and stay humanly normal? If you have any sense of moral decency it’s hard to watch it [happening], obviously for anyone. But this race war idea? How do you not get overwhelmed by injustice? I feel like when you’re trying to navigate being a nonviolent peacebuilder, at some point you have to ignore your friends’ opinions of you, thinking you’re a “collaborator” with the enemy! (Reminds me of what so many of the peacebuilders we met with said that their families call them…)

We obviously have to stand up to bigotry and hate, but when does standing for principles and morals turn into hatred for all that don’t voice your exactly fleshed-out opinions?

Her questions brought to mind a blog post a few months ago by noted author and educator Parker Palmer, entitled “What’s an Angry Quaker to Do?” He brings in another angle — when faced with blatant moral wrongs, are we not to respond with anger? “When something is morally wrong,” Palmer writes, “it does more harm than good to put a spiritually positive spin on it.” He continues, “I know that anger has the potential to harm the person who’s angry, and others in his or her orbit. But three deep dives into depression have taught me that anger buried under piosity poses more threats to my well being — and that of those around me — than anger expressed non-violently. Repressed anger is dangerous. Anger harnessed as an energy we can ride toward new life for all concerned is redemptive.”

I found his take on forgiveness interesting, as well, as it’s a vital component and oft-discussed aspect of non-violence. “Forgiveness, I’ve discovered, is not always mine to give — especially in relation to someone who has a long history of malicious acts and remains unrepentant.”

In this new era of extremism and activism and wondering how we can be most effective and make the most difference, this is all part of the conversation. In a way, we are each being invited to listen for where we are being called and to how we are being called to “show up.”

Would love to hear from you…what does that look like for you? How are you navigating these times and these challenges?

 

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